Kansas Goes For Nine Big 12 Titles in a Row: Some PerspectivePosted by KoryCarpenter on October 15th, 2012
From the WAC to the Big 10 and now the Big 12, Bill Self has finished in the top two of his conference every year since the 1998-99 season. For a future Hall of Fame coach, it’s a great run but nothing that will necessarily grab headlines on SportsCenter. But what Self has been doing at Kansas since 2004 — winning the Big 12 regular season title every year — is reaching historic levels the likes which haven’t been seen at a major conference since UCLA won 13 straight conference titles from 1966-1979.
Conference dynasties aren’t totally foreign to college basketball. Penn captured seven Ivy League regular season titles from 1998-2007. Gonzaga emerged as a mid-major power in the late 90s, winning the West Coast Conference 10 times since 1998-99. But this isn’t the Ivy League or the West Coast Conference. Bill Self hasn’t had the luxury of facing Dartmouth or San Francisco on a regular basis. He’s beaten Hall of Fame coaches and future NBA stars. Kevin Durant, the all-NBA talent and No. 2 pick in the 2007 NBA draft, couldn’t win the Big 12 his one season in college. That title belonged to Self and Kansas. Fellow No. 2 pick Michael Beasley fell to the Jayhawks during his one-and-done season in 2007-08 as well. Talented players come and go, coaches (and teams) move through the conference, but penciling in Kansas to hoist the trophy in early March has been the safest bet for nearly a decade.
Self hasn’t succeeded like a John Calipari, who recruits better than anyone in the game and whose team’s talent overwhelms the opposition for 40 minutes. In 2008, when Self won his first national championship, he managed a roster full of professionals with high expectations on his way to the conference crown. Last season, former Kansas coach and Self’s mentor Larry Brown watched a preseason practice and wondered if the Jayhawks would even make the NCAA Tournament. They did, obviously, coming just short of the school’s fourth NCAA Championship after capturing its eighth straight Big 12 title. Name a scenario and Bill Self has probably experienced it while winning the Big 12.
The short answer to Self’s success is talent, both on the court and on the bench. But the somewhat wry head coach seems to take a big sense of pride in winning the Big 12 and his players have bought in to the point of any other team winning their trophy as a personal affront. The team leaves every huddle with a “Big 12 champs” cry, after all. It’s grown to a serious challenge with each team, the veterans schooling freshman on the importance of winning the league — the importance of not letting the dominant streak end on their watch.
Keeping the streak alive won’t be as easy as some of the years past, though. Self’s returning talent — namely center Jeff Withey and guards Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford — are teamed with a boatload of incoming freshman. As many as seven newcomers could find their way into the rotation this season and growing pains are expected at least through Christmas. But Self has won the league with less talent before, and with no great teams standing before them in the Big 12 this season, betting against Self and Kansas looks to be a losing proposition once again.